Monday, March 19, 2012
Royal Profile: Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi
First the Prince and his party traveled to Oslo, Norway (then called Christiania -this was when Norway was united with Sweden) where he bought a whaling ship which he named the ‘Polar Star’. The Duke was an accomplished sailor as well and they braved the icy seas to reach Archangel in northern Russia. Donning their best finery they were welcomed by the local Tsarist governor, civil officials and a colorful collection of foreign representatives present at the frosty port of call. Special celebrations were held in honor of the royal visitor and the international gathering in the Russian port were treated to a special performance of a play set in the Middle East followed by the orchestra striking up the Italian royal anthem in honor of their guest. Before departing the Catholic Italians were invited to attend an Orthodox Divine Liturgy and finally they set sail for Franz Joseph Land where they planned to wait out the worst of winter before going by dog sled to the North Pole. Unfortunately, the Prince lost two fingers to frost-bite during the grueling winter which made him unable to handle a dog sled, forcing him to leave the last leg of the expedition in the hands of his subordinate Captain Umberto Cagni.
Prince Luigi had also trained with the Royal Italian Navy and by 1911 held the rank of vice-admiral and from 1911 to 1912 was given the post of Inspector of Torpedo Craft. This was more significant than it probably seemed at the time as free-swimming torpedoes were a recent innovation and would not actually sink a ship until a German u-boat did the job for the first time in 1914. However, this was an area that the Italians would later excel at and would achieve some stunning successes against the formidable British Royal Navy using tactics that began with those first torpedo craft developed under the Duke of the Abruzzi. When World War I broke out in 1914, Italy joining the fight a year later, the Duke was given command of the Italian Adriatic Fleet at Taranto with the formidable battleship Conte di Cavour as his flagship. As in the North Sea though, there was little combat between the main battle fleets of Italy and Austria-Hungary, each being content to keep the other side as inactive as possible while small-scale raids probed for weakness. However, Prince Luigi and his ships performed one of the great missions of the war when the rescued the long-suffering Serbian army which, in a combined German-Austrian-Bulgarian offensive, had been driven from their homeland. Were it not for the timely arrival of the Duke and his Italian fleet the Serbs would have been wiped out completely. Their rescue enabled them to rejoin the fight at the new Allied front in Greece and ultimately go on to see Serbia liberated from Austrian occupation.
The Duke of the Abruzzi had led a life most men would only dream about. The only thing lacking was a romantic interest he could carry off into the African sunset. There had been an earlier romance with an American woman named “Kitty” Elkins, the daughter of a wealthy West Virginia Senator. She was likely the one great love of his life but his cousin King Vittorio Emanuele III was adamant that no prince of the House of Savoy could marry a commoner. Prince Luigi was frustrated by this but, since the relationship could go nowhere, his brother, Prince Emanuele Filiberto Duke of Aosta (a hero of the Great War) convinced him to give the girl up and move on. This he did, only finally marrying a Somali woman named Faduma Ali toward the end of his life when he was no longer concerned with the consequences. He died in Jowhar, Somalia on March 18, 1933 at the age of 60 and, as per his wishes, was buried near a local river. Missing no opportunity to put himself forward, Benito Mussolini presided at his funeral, hailing the Duke of the Abruzzi as the last in a long line of great Italian explorers history would never forget.